The 2008/2009 year of YEA Arts was truly special with expansion beyond foster care and alternative schools into public schools with Gocio Elementary. While the success was due to a combined effort, John and I owe special thanks to our graduating seniors: Dawn Rivers, Kristin Palach, Bonnie Przonek and Sarah Bigelow.

Dawn Rivers and Kristin Palach, now Ringling Graduates In Computer Animation, worked in the overwhelmingly successful Graphic Novel projects at Gocio Elementary School.

What does it take to help a kid fall in love with reading and writing? This project put 4th graders on the creative side of something that kids love to consume – comics. Through showing that graphic novels can be used for more than just super hero stories, this project broadened student’s knowledge of different types of literature and helped them in writing and drawing their own adventures.

The teacher of the class, Ms. Michelle Rivas, said that “through them her students learned that they could accomplish any challenge or goal they set their minds to”. Ms. Rivas felt that Kristin and Dawn were “so generous and terrific at guiding and encouraging the children. Although some of the students thought the project was very challenging, especially the drawings, they felt great pride in themselves once they accomplished their goals. They also were made aware of the
fact that learning and trying something new is self-fulfilling. All this plus a huge improvement in their desire to read!”

While this was Kristin’s first year with YEA Arts, Dawn has spent several years working with foster care kids at the YMCA Kalish House and Youth Shelter. Dawn captivated the highly transitional kids at the Shelter with fun and creative arts and craft projects and computer animation with the boys at Kalish.

Bonnie Przonek, now a Ringling Graduate in Interior Design, worked in the overwhelmingly successful Set Design project at Gocio Elementary School.

The teacher in charge of the yearly school production, Ms. Dawn Burns, commented “Bonnie brought a new level of professionalism to the drama department at Gocio. For the last four years, the students of Gocio have watched their school musicals grow to be a wonderful and exciting experience for all ages. This year those students that choose to be back stage helping to build the sets, gather props and design costumes saw their work take on a new look. It is bigger, brighter and just amazing. The Ringling students took their designs and blew them up to eight-foot stage flats. The expressions on the students’ faces when they saw their ideas – that big – were priceless.” “The children know just how special this time is just by the obvious fantastic work that they are creating. I can not begin to describe what a wonderful experience this has been.”

Sarah Bigelow, now a Ringling Graduate in Photography and Digital Imaging, worked in the overwhelmingly successful YEA Arts Program Art Show and the Photography project at the YMCA Foster Care facility Bowman Ranch. Overall, the positive impact Sarah had on the YEA Arts program through her insight and vision has raised the level of artistic professionalism, transforming it to an exciting newness.

The kids Sarah worked with at Bowman Ranch have been forever changed by those moments of time spent in her presence, learning to use the camera to look at their world differently and seeing a more positive future. Through Sarah’s mentoring and teaching these young people, she opened up a new path for their future.

We also give Sarah our heartfelt thanks for her help in orchestrating YEA Arts first Art Show. Having never put on an art show, Sarah shepherded John and I through an unknown realm to an overwhelmingly successful outcome. The evening became one beyond our imagination. Sarah’s vision turned a large empty space into a vibrant telling of the impact YEA Arts has on the kids, teachers, and children-focused programs in our community.

The evening highlighted not only Sarah’s artistic ability but also her management capability, getting fellow students and local businesses to latch onto her vision and strive to make it happen. That’s a talent that will take Sarah far in life.

YEA Arts has truly gained from the involvement of Kristin, Dawn, Bonnie, and Sarah and they will all be missed greatly.

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